August 30, 2016

Pattern Making, Tom Bihn Style

TOM BIHN Pattern Making In Design

I think I was 11 years old when I made my first pattern -- probably for a down-filled vest. Or, no, maybe it was a daypack.

Being autodidactic in one's youth almost guarantees one's being an iconoclast later in life: thus, like so many other things, I approach pattern making as an outsider. Had I received formal training in pattern making (or design for that matter), I think my bags would look somewhat more like all the other bags out there. And that would be too bad.

Being self-taught can mean that the learning never ends, and I like to think that's been the case for me. When nine years ago I purchased some 2D pattern drafting software (PAD System, the only serious pattern software for Mac), it was a bit like a cave man being given... well, a bomb, but in a good way. Suddenly I could leverage my obsession for accuracy, give voice to my passion for getting things just right, and at the same time work towards making my bags easier to sew.

Well-patterned and accurately cut fabric parts are easier to sew, which makes for better looking bags and happy factory crew. And there's the crux of this whole pattern making thing, or cruces really, because there's two main things one must keep in mind: make beautiful stuff, of course, but make the people who make it happy too. If sewing one of my bags is like wrestling an alligator, or eating jello with chopsticks, then I wonder if I've done a bad thing. Our talented crew, who show up every day at our Seattle factory to make all of these bags, deserve to have their task made as efficient as possible. And the primary tool I use to accomplish that is my über-accurate pattern making.

Of course, pattern making is almost the end of the whole thing really: before I'm making an actual pattern, I've spent hours cogitating, sketching, modeling and noodling around on a sewing machine, making mock-ups and slopers, just generally having a good time. The pattern making itself, and more important yet, pattern refining, is hard, tedious work. And just when you think you've nailed it, you haven't. Our factory crew may have made a hundred or a thousand of a certain bag, and then Lisa or Fong will ask for a minor change, some nudging of a notch or nuancing of a curve.

It never ends. And I love it.

TOM BIHN Pattern Making In Design
Digitizing parts from a prototype.

TOM BIHN Pattern Making In Design
One of the many stack cut parts in our factory. An efficient 'marker' will utilize the minimum amount of fabric possible, which means less waste.

Tom, Lisa, and Fong making sure you don't see the new Hero's Journey backpack before its big debut.
When we begin the first production run of a new design -- especially one as fascinatingly complex as The Hero's Journey -- I work with Lisa and Fong on the factory floor to make pattern adjustments as necessary. Here, we're making sure Darcy doesn't reveal too much of The Hero's Journey before its debut on September 27th.

TOM BIHN Pattern Making
Here's some patterns that failed my standards. When Einstein moved into his office at Princeton, he asked that it be furnished with a desk, a chair, and a "large wastebasket... so I can throw away all of my mistakes."


Ryan Norbauer - November 19, 2019

Fascinating work! May I ask what mouse or tool you’re using to digitize your patterns in the above image?

TB Crew - November 19, 2019

@Ryan Norbauer Tom says: it’s a GTCO CALCOMP ROLLUP II.

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.